The secret serval

[ I am back from Tanzania, and beginning to go through my photos. Here goes.]

In my years of going to Africa, I had never seen a serval. And I’ll hazard a guess that some of you may not be entirely sure what they look like, and some of you may never even have heard of them.

Ta-daa! Here is my first ever serval.


They are exquisite small cats, with amazing ears and sexy coats. They are not endangered, but hard to see. Depending on when their favorite local prey is most active, servals may be either nocturnal or diurnal. This one was prowling through long grass just before dusk, in the Northern Serengeti near Serian camp.

Their Latin name is Leptailurus serval.  Their bodies are typically around 70cm long, though this one was smaller. They weigh 10-15Kg. They lie still in the long grass with their eyes closed, and listen for smallish rodents with those huge ears (the largest ears relative to body size of any cat). Then they leap, with all four feet off the ground, and descend on their prey, stunning or killing it with a blow from their fore feet. They have a very high success rate, of about 50%, way higher than the bigger cats.

This video shows a young serval trying to subdue an angry snake..


Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s famous novel, Il Gattopardo, is called The Leopard in English, but in fact the Italian word means serval, and servals were the symbol of the Tomasi family. They used to be found in Tunisia not far from the island of Lampedusa, and there are attempts to reintroduce them.

Here is the Tomasi family crest: I think you could easily convince me that the central animal is a serval (or not)!


I do see that The Leopard might sell more copies than The Serval, but only if you have never been lucky enough to see a serval.

4 thoughts on “The secret serval”

  1. Seeing a post from you, Moira, made me happy! I’m thinking you have lots of photos to go thru. That’s an amazing video of the Serval & Snake! especially in slo-mo, so you can see how wonderfully athletic the Serval is when jumping. They very much remind me of Bobcats, although there are obvious differences. You must have had a super exciting time in Tanzania. Looking forward to your next post.


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